Decolonization and Resurgence/Revival/Reawakening of Hindutva
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Editor’s Note: Through the ages, Hindus, or whatever we have called ourselves, have been reformists. Some have compared Hinduism to an “open source” and “free” software, and have labeled those faiths that call themselves “religions” as “closed source” software. At this time, when the attacks against Hindus have become furious, global, and coordinated, some have been asking and urging that we reconsider what ails us, or whether there is anything we can do to mitigate any harm in our “system,” “practices,” “beliefs,” and the smriti texts in which we see interpolations across centuries, many of them leading to the calcification of some practices that have harmed society. This article is in the second of the series we hope to publish on this issue. We welcome your contributions. Please submit them to email@example.com
The first article in this series can be accessed here.
The following passage is from an article titled, “Seduced by the Ruler’s Gaze: An Indian Perspective on Seth Dickinson’s Masquerade,” and written by a person of Indian origin living in the West (1). It was published in a US magazine – “Uncanny”:
“Hindu nationalists, descended from the group that assassinated Gandhi, have twisted the dynamic Hindu religion into a conservative, racist system of control over minorities, not unlike what the British had tried to do with Christianity to the Hindus in the 19th century.”
The article under the garb of ‘decolonisation’ and ‘Godse jibe’ tries to make a case for the ‘Good Hinduism vs Bad Hindutva’ narrative being peddled since 2014 after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formed the government at the centre. The decade of the 1990s saw the emergence of the new wave of Hindu Renaissance in the form of Shri Rama Janmabhoomi Movement along with the simultaneous rise of new-age digital media. This rattled the Left-Liberal cabal as their monopoly on the flow of information was lost. In response, they now use a variety of tactics to sabotage and subvert the Hindu movement.
While on one hand a group of the so-called liberals will make a case to portray Hinduism as a colonial Brahminical construction oppressing Dalits, women, and minorities, the other group will portray Shri Rama and Goddess Durga as Aryan invaders alleging that the Vedic texts are tools of Brahminical patriarchy. Simultaneously, a parallel group of leftists will proclaim they are neutral and try to portray themselves as the followers of the ‘real Hinduism’ which is good and inclusive, painting Hindutva and its followers as bigots and divisive. They then align themselves with the Left and propagate their narrative.
Decolonisation is now a much-discussed topic in the political discourse of India as well as the West. The Global Left working tirelessly on their neo-colonial agenda of ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva’ is pushing extremely hard to portray Hindutva as inspired by Nazism.
‘Hindu Fascism’ is a frequently used term to denote and malign the rightwing Hindu organisations of India. Leading leftwing ideologues of the West like Sheldon Pollock with a large following in the so-called intellectual circles of India are even manufacturing distorted narratives linking the origin of Nazi ideology to Hindu religious texts (2), while it is a fact that anti-Semitism originated from Biblical literature and the Nazis received active support of the Church and Pan-Islamists of the era (3) (4).
This leads to a very serious question: — where does Hindutva stand as an ideology in the contemporary narrative, and on issues of nationalism, caste, women’s rights, threats of Abrahamic imperialism, and more?
Dominant Intelligentsia’s Colonial Approach Towards Indigenous Culture
While the global monotheist forces keep pushing their expansionist agendas, Marxist intellectuals in Indian academia have provided them a fertile ground to plant their narrative and promote their religious expansionist zeal. They do this by saying that these monopolists are persecuted minorities in India! This is evident from the pre-partition days when the Communist Party of India (CPI) officially supported the division of India and the formation of Pakistan (5), as well as supporting the Nizam of Hyderabad in his anti-Hindu pogrom in 1948 (6). Post partition, Islamists were welcomed into the Left-Liberal cabal. The Islamists of Kashmir and other parts of India as well as the Christian insurgents of the northeastern states have received active support from the leftist cabal (7).
In his recently published book ‘India, that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution’, author and lawyer J Sai Deepak notes how the ‘colonisation’ agendas of the Abrahamic imperialists received support from the supposedly intellectual, liberal, and secular quarters in India as well as on the international platforms (8):
In the context of India, the postcolonial and the Marxist schools have forged a collaborative partnership, in the sense that both advance European & Middle Eastern colonialities in their own ways by creating divisions within the indigenous consciousness or by digesting it, ‘sublaternism’, being a case in point.
While Marxism masquerades as an independent ideology elsewhere, in India it has effectively acted as the perfect soil for colonializing mindsets whose attitudes towards indigenous consciousness have been one of attempt and condescension, neither of which allows for peaceful coexistence.
Both the postcolonial & Marxist schools have arrogated to themselves the status of self-appointed guardians of ‘India Studies,’ now ‘South Asian Studies,’ which gives them monopoly over India’s subjectivity, history and therefore its future. While the global literature on decoloniality is celebrated in the context of Americas, India-specific literature is relentlessly maligned despite seeking to achieve a similar goal as decoloniality – to stand up for Indic indigenous consciousness which is surrounded by an ocean of proselytizing & expansionist colonialities. Even if postcolonial and Marxist schools have advanced the cause of indigeneities outside India, the principle of harm suggests that both schools have harmed India’s indigenous consciousness more than empowering it.
Decolonisation and the Hindutva Dilemma
While the Marxist approach towards the native/indigenous people and their ethos has been negative because of their ideological agenda and motives, the approach of the so-called Hindu Nationalists or Hindutvavadis has also been grounded in their lack of independent perspective rooted in the indigenous consciousness of India.
Sitaram Goel, one of the tallest Hindu intellectuals of the twentieth century, remarked on the lack of independent thinking on the part of political Hindus who identify themselves as ‘nationalists’:
Nationalists have failed to move Hindu masses because their appeal has been purely political. These nationalists have drawn most of their inspiration from the modern West and not from India’s own great past (9).
Professor Walter Mignolo, a semiotician, describes how the quest of native politicians of colonised societies for political independence from the European coloniser was based on the very framework introduced by the same colonizer. He notes:
The colonised native elites sought by way of ‘independence’ the agency to be able to write their own futures but using the ideas, rules, tools and institutions of the erstwhile coloniser, which were designed for top-down imposition on the conquered and subjugated in order to ‘civilise’ them (10).
By 20th century, the native elites of colonised societies began asserting themselves – demanding freedom as sovereign & independent ‘nation-states’ that could write their destinies just as colonising nations could. Aspiration of the colonised to be sovereign nation-states on European lines (11).
Coloniality was entrenched in colonised societies through politico-legal infrastructure of European colonisers as well as the education system introduced by them, which shaped the thinking of the native elites. Introduction of colonial education systems in colonised societies and the replacement of indigenous epistemologies and their structures ensured that coloniality informed their present, shaped their ideas of the future and critically coloured their vision of the past (12).
Worldview of the colonised societies changed entirely. Owing to coloniality, the vision of independence of most native elites was limited to the politico-economic sphere, namely decolonisation, but did not include decolonialisation because they accepted European worldview on the all-important cultural front as well (13).
Belgian author and historian, Koenraad Elst, while describing how the European notion of ‘Territorial Nationalism’ is harming the Hindu interests, writes (14):
Falling back on the nationalist paradigm makes Hindus misunderstand issues. It is of course far easier to separate people by skin colour than by ideology, very appealing to the lazy, tamasic mind. But it is sure to make you mistake enemies for friends, and friends for enemies. If you think you can afford that on a battlefield, suit yourselves.
Geographical provenance had nothing to do with demolition of temples. The Greeks, Scythians, Kushanas and Huns had been foreigners too, as were the British, yet they had not been in the business of temple-destruction. By contrast, Malik Kafur had been a native but as much of a temple-destroyer as Babar, after he had converted to Islam. So, in reality, there had been a religious conflict between Hinduism and Islam, the religions of the “Hindu hero” Rama and the “Muslim invader” Babar, but Sangh Parivar escapists had tried to clothe it in nationalist language of “Indian” vs. “foreign”.
Conceptualizing Islamic iconoclasm in terms of “national” vs. “foreign” is completely mistaken. In the case of the contemporary Sangh Parivar, it has moreover become a wilful mistake, an act of escapism. It thinks it can escape the label of “religious fanaticism” and earn the hoped-for pat on the shoulder from the secularists by swearing it is not Hindu. It now claims to be wedded to secular “nationalism,” not realizing that this term also invites contempt, at least in the West and therefore also among the Westernized intelligentsia.
Hinduism as Spiritual, Cultural, and Ideological Pillars of Patriotism
Let’s consider the ideas on patriotism and indigenous consciousness of some of the major historical figures of Hindu Renaissance of the past two centuries.
Swami Vivekananda preached nationalism based on the following four rock-solid ideals (15):
1. The awakening of the masses who form the basis of the nation.
2. Development of physical and moral strength.
3. Unity based on common spiritual ideas.
4. Consciousness of, and pride in, the ancient glory and greatness of India.
Historian R.C. Majumdar, while describing Swami Vivekananda as the person who emphasized the ideas and directly contributed to sow the seeds of national development, wrote:
Swamiji always stressed the fact that the best approach to Hindu mind and one sure to move it was through religion. So be put the organized and devoted service to the masses for their all-round regeneration in intellectual, religious, moral, and material conditions, not as a political programme, but on a religious basis as a means of salvation to every individual in accordance with the neo-Vedanta or practical Vedanta preached by him.
Similarly, he put the other important factor of national regeneration-growth of self-confidence and self-reliance and development of physical and moral strength-also on a religious basis.
‘First of all, our young men must be strong. Religion will come afterwards. Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. These are bold words; but I have to say them, for I love you… You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger.’
‘What I want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel, inside which dwells a mind of the same material the thunderbolt is made. Strength, manhood, Kshatra-Virya, Brahma-Teja.’
‘Strength, strength is what the Upanishads speak to me from every page. This is the one great thing to remember, it has been the one great lesson I have been taught in my life; strength, it says, strength, O man, be not weak.’
Though an ascetic, Vivekananda was a patriot of patriots. The thought of restoring the pristine glory of India by resuscitating among her people the spiritual vitality which was dormant, but not dead, was always the uppermost thought in his mind. His great disciple, Sister Nivedita, who was his constant companion, has remarked: “Throughout those years, in which I saw him almost daily, the thought of India was to him like the air he breathed.”
Urged by such an intense feeling of patriotism, Swamiji, though he kept himself aloof from politics, held the ideal of political freedom before his countrymen, specially the young men, as their immediate goal. To a group of young men who met him at Dacca during his tour in 1901, and asked for his advice, he said: ‘Read Bankim Chandra and emulate his deshabhakti (patriotism) and Sanatana Dharma (principles of the heroic band of Sannyasins as depicted in the Anandamath). Your duty should be service to motherland. India should be freed politically first.’
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, the nineteenth-century intellectual, is remembered for composing Vande Mataram, where the motherland is personified in the forms of Goddess Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. Vande Mataram and the novel Anandamath became the guiding force for millions of youths inculcating a strong feeling of patriotism in them during the freedom struggle. Author and columnist, Swapan Dasgupta describes Bankimchandra’s idea of patriotism in the following words (16):
Bankimchandra clearly finds nationalistic feeling a defective emotion. Yet, in his book Dharmatattwa there is a chapter called ‘Swadeshpriti’ which means love for one’s own country. There he describes this category of love as a highly desirable attitude. Is Bankim contradicting himself? The answer is: no. He dislikes the European pattern of nationalism and patriotism, including sanctioning encroachment of others’ property and freedom. By Swadeshpriti, Bankim means a dedication to improving the conditions of one’s habitat and upholding the rights of its people. This, Bankim holds, conforms to the universal Dharma of preserving life on earth.
Twentieth-century revolutionary and intellectual Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, also known as Veer Savarkar is regarded as one of the tallest icons of Indian nationalism. His mammoth effort on the intellectual front to try and incorporate the different ideas of Hindu resurgence within the framework of Hindutva is regarded as his greatest contribution. The importance of religious and cultural elements of Hinduism was emphasised by him even while drawing a sharp distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva (17):
Let Hinduism concern itself with the salvation of life after death, the concept of God and the universe. Let individuals be free to form opinions about the trio. The whole universe from one end to the other is the real book of religion. But so far as the materialistic and secular aspect is concerned, Hindus are bound by a common culture, a common history, a common language, a common country and a common religion.
Politics and Hindutva Discourse
The term Hindutva was coined by Chandranath Basu in the latter half of the nineteenth-century and popularised by the writings of V D Savarkar. However, the term got prominence and wider acceptance since the 1990s. Today, it is used synonymously with anything related to the political aspect of Hinduism. While the Hindu uprising has definitely helped the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to gain political success, what is lacking currently in the Hindutva discourse is the lack of intellectual investment to establish itself as a strong intellectual school of thought and countering the narrative of the ‘Break India’ forces. Spiritual and cultural illiteracy, and ideological bankruptcy are common in the so-called Hindutva organisations.
Rightwing organisations’ lack of sensitiveness and understanding of the critical threats faced by the Hindu civilization like the demographic invasion and Liberal Wokeism among the younger generation due to the dominance of the Left-Liberals in academia makes genuine Hindutva supporters worried.
While organisations claiming to support Hindutva have received success in electoral politics, their success vis-a-vis containing Abrahamic imperialism is dismal because it has still not figured out the options to counter those monopolist and supremacist forces. Western imperialism inspired by Judeo-Christian values is deeply impacting the minds of Indians through its glorified form of globalisation.
Hindutva organisations do not have any record of checking its expansion geopolitically either, because in the cultural and social sphere Hindutva is by and large open to the values of Western universalism. While Hindutva has made a successful contribution to society by rejecting caste-based orthodoxy — Savarkar supported a society free from the caste system (18) — and giving support to affirmative actions in different sectors it is yet to provide an alternative of a strong social capital which can sustain Hindu society if the caste system is to be miraculously eliminated in the near future.
To build a political identity simply as a reaction based on an alien framework of territorial nationalism is dangerous. Neglecting the spiritual and cultural elements by the flag bearers of the movement will lead to further degeneracy and confusion in an already chaotic Hindu society.
Being a Hindutvavadi should mean that the person should know the basics of dharma, how dharma is not equivalent to the Abrahamic concept of ‘religion’, and how one should be committed to the cause of dharma. Even if a Hindutvavadi does not follow strict ritualism in his/her personal capacity, s/he should have the basic cultural literacy about the different traditions and customs prevalent in Hindu society. This is required not only to counter the propaganda of the Left, but also to understand the subtle motive behind each of the practices of Hindu society, based on different philosophies or darshanas.
Hindutva organisations and supporters need to understand the importance of intellectual investment not only in politics but in the sphere of culture. Sitaram Goel says (19):
The one lesson we learn from the freedom movement as a whole is that a religious and cultural awakening in Hindu society has to precede political awakening. The language of Indian nationalism has to be the language of Sanatana Dharma before it can challenge and defeat the various languages of imperialism. The more clearly Hindu society sees the universal truth of Hindu spirituality and culture, the more readily it will reject political ideologies masquerading as religion or promising a paradise on this earth.
It is now up to the leadership of Hindutva organisations to seriously work upon the new challenges of narratives which political Hinduism is facing. Else the terms like ‘decolonisation’ and ‘Indic’ will just become mere buzz words spoken in big seminars and elite conferences with no impact on the ground.
1. Jain, S. (2021). “Seduced by the Ruler’s Gaze: An Indian Perspective on Seth Dickinson’s Masquerade,” Uncanny, https://uncannymagazine.com/article/seduced-by-the-rulers-gaze-an-indian-perspective-on-seth-dickinsons-masquerade/
2. Gangopadhyay, K. (May 29, 2018). “Unmasking Sheldon Pollock’s blatant and unabashed Hinduphobia,” OpIndia, https://www.opindia.com/2018/05/unmasking-sheldon-pollocks-blatant-and-unabashed-hinduphobia/
3. Times of India (May 02, 2020). “In ‘confession of guilt,’ German Catholic Church admits ‘complicity’ with Nazis,” https://www.timesofisrael.com/german-bishops-said-to-admit-complicity-in-nazi-actions-in-new-report/
4. Motadel, D. (November 13, 2017). “How Nazis courted the Islamic world during WWII,” Deutsche Welle, https://www.dw.com/en/how-nazis-courted-the-islamic-world-during-wwii/a-41358387
5. Hamzah, M. A. “Role of the Communist Party of India in Pakistan with reference to the Right of Self-determination,” https://www.academia.edu/14288233/Role_of_the_Communist_Party_of_India_in_Pakistan_Movement_with_reference_to_the_right_of_self_determination
6. Balakrishna, S. “The Story of the Communist Collaboration with the Nizam of Hyderabad and his bloodthirsty Razakars: An Introduction,” The Dharma Dispatch, https://www.dharmadispatch.in/history/the-story-of-the-communist-collaboration-with-the-nizam-of-hyderabad-and-his-bloodthirsty-razakkars-an-introduction
7. Sanyal, N. (September 14, 2021). “Communists and Islamists: The Unholy Alliance of the Extremists,” Organiser, https://www.organiser.org/world/taliban-government-the-unholy-alliance-5394.html
8. Sai Deepak J. (2021), India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution; Bloomsbury India. pp. 166-67
9. Goel, S. R. “Perversion of India’s Political Parlance,” Voice of India. Excerpt published in Pragyata, https://pragyata.com/project/the-place-of-mahatma-gandhi/
10. Mignolo W. (2011), The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options, Duke University Press. Quoted in J Sai Deepak (2021), India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution”, pp. 35-59. Bloomsbury, India.
11. Mignolo W. (2017), “Coloniality is far from over and so must be decoloniality”, Afterall: A Journal of art context and enquiry, 43, pp. 38-45. Quoted in J Sai Deepak (2021), India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution, pp. 35-59. Bloomsbury, India.
12. Baker M. (2012) ‘Modernity/Coloniality and Eurocentric Education: Towards a Post-Occidental Self Understanding of the present’, Policy Futures in Education, 10:1. Quoted in J Sai Deepak (2021), India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution, pp. 35-59. Bloomsbury, India.
13. Mignolo W. (2018). ‘On Pluriversality and Multipolar World Order: Decoloniality after Decolonizaton; Dewesternization after the Cold War’, in Constructing the Pluriverse, edited by Bernd Reiter, Duke University Press. Quoted in J Sai Deepak (2021), India that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution, pp. 35-59. Bloomsbury, India.
14. Elst, K. (September 28, 2017). “Down with ‘nationalism’,” http://koenraadelst.blogspot.com/2017/10/down-with-nationalism.html
15. Majumdar R.C. (2013). Swami Vivekananda: A Historical Review, Advaita Ashram, Kolkata, 2013, pp. 97-109.
16. Dasgupta S. (2019) “Awakening Bharat Mata – The Political Thought of the Indian Right”, Penguin Random House, India, p. 133
17. Keer D. (1988), Veer Savarkar, Popular Prakashan, Mumbai, p. 228.
18. Veer Savarkar, ”Seven Shackles,” https://savarkar.org/en/encyc/2017/5/22/Seven-shackles.html
19. Goel, S. R. “Perversion of India’s Political Parlance,” excerpted in Pragyata, https://pragyata.com/project/the-place-of-mahatma-gandhi/
Tags: Hinduism, Hindus, Hindutva, Hindutvavadi, Marxist, Left-Liberal, Veer Savarkar, Sai Deepak, BJP